Responding to Ed Hughes

Dave Baskerville (7 April 2016) Mr. Ed Hughes, Member, MMSD Board 4/7/16 Ed, I finally got around to reading your “Eight Lessons Learned” article in the 3/9/16 edition of CT. Interesting/thanks. As you know from our previous discussions, we have similar thinking on some of the MMSD challenges, not on others. For the sake of […]

Madison school board’s Ed Hughes: Don’t extend Teacher Union contract without rethinking hiring process

Pat Schneider: It’s not a good idea for the Madison School District to extend its labor contract with teachers through the 2015-2016 school year without renegotiating it, says school board member Ed Hughes. Hughes wants Madison School District administrators — especially school principals — to have the ability to offer jobs to the best teacher […]

Run for Madison School Board: 2014 Election Key Dates; Incumbents Marj Passman Won’t Run, Ed Hughes Seeks Re-Election



The City of Madison Clerk has posted a helpful candidate guide (PDF), here.
Two Madison School Board seats will be on the spring, 2014 ballot: Seat 6 and Seat 7. It is never too early to run for school board, particularly in light of the District’s long term, disastrous reading results.
The 2014 Spring Primary will be held on February 18, 2014 if necessary. The spring election is scheduled for April 1, 2014.
Much more on Ed Hughes and Marj Passman. Incumbent Ed Hughes has not had a competitive race in his previous two elections.

Commentary on Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes’ Teacher Salary Increase Words

Chris Rickert:

“Our teachers haven’t had a raise for the last three years.” — Ed Hughes, clerk and candidate for president of the Madison School Board
There are a lot of employees who haven’t seen their pay go up in three years, but the vast majority of Madison public school teachers aren’t among them.
And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking home more money.
Confused? Welcome to the world of public school teacher compensation, post-Act 10.
Hughes isn’t the first public school representative whose definition of “raise” doesn’t jibe with the way the rest of the world defines “raise” — i.e., an increase in salary for a job well done.
During teachers union contract negotiations, public school and union officials routinely refer to a “raise” as something that is distinct from and in addition to the automatic bumps in salary teachers are already getting for remaining on the job and accruing more college credit. Essentially, such raises are across-the-board increases in a district’s salary range, known as a salary schedule.
But if a district refuses to increase that range, teachers continue to get longevity and degree-attainment pay raises under the old salary schedule.
It’s such parsing that allows Hughes to say teachers haven’t gotten raises — and to be right, at least in one context.

Related: MTI & The Madison School Board, written by Ed Hughes in 2005:

The WSJ article also states that “This year’s salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million.” So the school board, with all the budgetary problems it confronts, is apparently willing to pay for salaries and benefits an increase that is about twice as much as state law will permit the overall budget to rise next year, and $1.9 million more than the amount necessary to avoid arbitration. (Using the same numbers, a 3.8% increase would be $6.57 million.)
What could be the justification for this? I understand that, as a practical matter, the increase has to be more than 3.8% in order for the district to obtain any sort of concessions. (Across the state for 2004-2005, the average total package increase per teacher was 4.28%.) Does anyone know if there are concessions on the table that might explain what seems to be an excessive increase in these difficult times? Or what other justification for this level of increase there might be?

Related: Up, Down & Transparency: Madison Schools Received $11.8M more in State Tax Dollars last year, Local District Forecasts a Possible Reduction of $8.7M this Year.
Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months.

Does the School Board Matter? Ed Hughes argues that experience does, but what about “Governance” and “Student Achievement”?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Call me crazy, but I think a record of involvement in our schools is a prerequisite for a School Board member. Sitting at the Board table isn’t the place to be learning the names of our schools or our principals.
Wayne Strong, TJ Mertz and James Howard rise far above their opponents for those of us who value School Board members with a history of engagement in local educational issues and a demonstrated record of commitment to our Madison schools and the students we serve.

Notes and links on Ed Hughes and the 2013 Madison School Board election.
I’ve become a broken record vis a vis Madison’s disastrous reading results. The District has been largely operating on auto-pilot for decades. It is as if a 1940’s/1950’s model is sufficient. Spending increases annually (at lower rates in recent years – roughly $15k/student), yet Madison’s disastrous reading results continue, apace.
Four links for your consideration.
When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use. This program continues, despite the results.
3rd Grade Madison School District Reading Proficiency Data (“Achievement Gap Plan”)

The other useful stat buried in the materials is on the second page 3 (= 6th page), showing that the 3rd grade proficiency rate for black students on WKCE, converted to NAEP-scale proficiency, is 6.8%, with the accountability plan targeting this percentage to increase to 23% over one school year. Not sure how this happens when the proficiency rate (by any measure) has been decreasing year over year for quite some time. Because the new DPI school report cards don’t present data on an aggregated basis district-wide nor disaggregated by income and ethnicity by grade level, the stats in the MMSD report are very useful, if one reads the fine print.

Madison Schools Distort Reading Data (2004) by Mark Seidenberg.
How many School Board elections, meetings, votes have taken place since 2005 (a number of candidates were elected unopposed)? How many Superintendents have been hired, retired or moved? Yet, the core structure remains. This, in my view is why we have seen the move to a more diffused governance model in many communities with charters, vouchers and online options.
Change is surely coming. Ideally, Madison should drive this rather than State or Federal requirements. I suspect it will be the latter, in the end, that opens up our monolithic, we know best approach to public education.

School board member Ed Hughes wants to give some docked pay back to Madison teachers (Proposal Withdrawn Later in the Day)

Matthew DeFour:

Hughes is making the proposal [56K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment] as an amendment to the district’s budget.
Funding would come from the $1.3 million windfall the district will get from docking the pay of 1,769 teachers who were absent without an excuse on one or more days between Feb. 16-18 and 21.
The district closed school during those four days because of the high number of staff members who called in sick to attend protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed changes to public sector collective bargaining.
“Under the circumstances it seemed to me the school district shouldn’t necessarily profit from that, because the teachers agreed to make up the time in a way that took away planning time for them,” said Hughes, who is considering a run for school board president when new officers are elected Monday.
Hughes is also proposing increasing the district’s proposed property tax levy for next year by about $2 million to pay for maintenance and technology projects and any costs associated with the district’s implementation of a state-imposed talented-and-gifted education plan.
“It seems goofy that we give away $1 million and then raise property taxes [50K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment],” board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Jay Sorgi:

If a school board member in Madison gets his way, the district would used money it saved when teachers forced schools to shut down during the budget debate to award end of the year bonuses to teachers.
WTMJ partner station WIBA Radio in Madison says that teachers in Madison would receive $200 gift cards as year-end bonuses.
“Whenever we can, we need to show some kind of tangible appreciation for the extremely hard work our teachers and staff do,” said Ed Hughes, a member of the Madison school board.
“They’ve had a particularly tough year as you know, given that they kind of became political footballs in the legislature. We’re ending up slashing their take home pay by a substantial amount, pretty much because we have to.”

Additional links:

Related: 5/26/2005 MTI & The Madison School Board by Ed Hughes.

Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole: Cieslewicz forged good partnership with schools

Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole

As members of the Madison School Board, we appreciate that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s vision for the future recognizes that strong Madison public schools are vital to a growing and vibrant community.
Whether it’s been working together to establish the Meadowood Community Center, devoting city funds to improving safe routes for walking and biking to our schools or helping to plan for our new 4-year-old kindergarten program, the city under Cieslewicz’s leadership has forged a strong and productive partnership with the school district.
We look forward to continuing our work with Mayor Dave on smart and effective responses to the challenges that lie ahead for our schools and our city.
Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole, members, Madison School Board

Ed Hughes on Madison Teacher Absences & Protest

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, via email:

It’s been a non-quiet week here in Madison. Everyone has his or her own take on the events. Since I’m a member of the Madison School Board, mine is necessarily a management perspective. Here’s what the week’s been like for me.
Nearly as soon as the governor’s budget repair bill was released last Friday, I had a chance to look at a summary and saw what it did to collective bargaining rights. Basically, the bill is designed to gut public employee unions, including teacher unions. While it does not outlaw such unions outright, it eliminates just about all their functions.
Our collective bargaining agreement with MTI is currently about 165 pages, which I think is way too long. If the bill passes, our next collective bargaining agreement can be one paragraph — way, way, way too short.
On Monday, Board members collaborated on a statement condemning the legislation and the rush to push it through. All Board members signed the statement on Monday evening and it was distributed to all MMSD staff on Tuesday.

“Students and Their Needs Come First” – Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

via greatmadisonschools.org:

One in particular — the addition of more AP classes will certainly not be a detriment in the college application process. However, the most selective colleges generally expect applicants to have taken the AP classes at their high school if they are available.
The idea that this new plan will promote segregation is particularly pernicious and about 180 degrees off the mark as far as the intent of the program goes.
Finally, the point of choosing a curriculum for our schools is to determine the best courses for our students to take, not the courses that teachers most want to teach. Students and their needs come first.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to write.
Ed Hughes, Madison School Board

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes New Blog: A Number of Comments on Maintenance Spending & Budgeting

Ed Hughes:

I plan to write in more detail about why I dislike the tradition of explaining property tax levy changes in terms of the impact on the owner of a house assessed at a value of $250,000. The editorial in this morning’s State Journal is evidence of how reliance on the $250,000 house trope can lead to mischief.
Here are the third and fourth paragraphs of the editorial:
“The Madison School Board just agreed to a preliminary budget that will increase the district’s tax on a $250,000 home by about 9 percent to $2,770. The board was dealt a difficult hand by the state. But it didn’t do nearly enough to trim spending.
“Madison Area Technical College is similarly poised to jack up its tax bite by about 8 percent to $348. MATC is at least dealing with higher enrollment. But the 8 percent jump follows a similar increase last year. And MATC is now laying the groundwork for a big building referendum.”

Blog address: http://edhughesschoolblog.wordpress.com/, RSS Feed.
I’m glad Ed is writing online. Two Madison School Board seats are open during the spring, 2011 election: the two currently occupied by Ed and Marj Passman.

Thinking about the Cost of Educating Students via the Madison School District, Virtual Schools and a Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes email to State Senator Fred Risser

Susan Troller:

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes sent me an e-mail pointing out another vexing problem with Wisconsin’s school funding system and how it penalizes the Madison district, which I’ve written about in the past. Hughes notes in his e-mail “This particular wrinkle of the state school financing system is truly nuts.”
Hughes is incensed that the IQ Academy, a virtual school operated by the Waukesha district, gets over $6000 in state aid for poaching students from the Madison district while total state aid for educating a student in a real school here at home is $3400. Waukesha makes a profit of about $500 per student at the expense of taxpayers here, Hughes says. And that’s including profits going to the national corporate IQ Academy that supplies the school’s programming.

The complete text of Ed Hughes letter to Senator Risser:

Sen. Risser:
As if we needed one, here is another reason to be outraged by our state school financing system:
This week’s issue of Isthmus carries a full page ad on page 2. It is sponsored by “IQ Academy Wisconsin,” which is described as a “tuition-free, online middle and high school program of the School District of Waukesha, WI.” The ad invites our Madison students to open-enroll in their “thriving learning community.”
What’s in it for Waukesha? A report on virtual charter schools by the State Fiscal Bureau, released this week, sheds some light on this. The Madison school district gets a little more than $2,000 in general state aid for each of our students. If you include categorical aids and everything else from the state, the amount goes up to about $3,400/student.
However, if Waukesha (or any other school district) is successful in poaching one of our students, it will qualify for an additional $6,007 in state aid. (That was actually the amount for the 2007-08 school year, that last year for which data was available for the Fiscal Bureau report.) As it was explained to me by the author of the Fiscal Bureau report, this $6,007 figure is made up of some combination of additional state aid and a transfer of property taxes paid by our district residents to Waukesha.
So the state financing system will provide nearly double the amount of aid to a virtual charter school associated with another school district to educate a Madison student than it will provide to the Madison school district to educate the same student in an actual school, with you know, bricks and mortar and a gym and cafeteria and the rest.
The report also states that the Waukesha virtual school spends about $5,500 per student. So for each additional student it enrolls, the Waukesha district makes at least a $500 profit. (It’s actually more than that, since the incremental cost of educating one additional student is less than the average cost for the district.) This does not count the profit earned by the private corporation that sells the on-line programming to Waukesha.
The legislature has created a system that sets up very strong incentives for a school district to contract with some corporate on-line operation, open up a virtual charter school, and set about trying to poach other districts’ students. Grantsburg, for example, has a virtual charter school that serves not a single resident of the Grantsburg school district. What a great policy.
By the way, Waukesha claims in its Isthmus ad that “Since 2004, IQ Academy Wisconsin students have consistently out-performed state-wide and district averages on the WKCE and ACT tests.” I didn’t check the WKCE scores, but last year 29.3% of the IQ Academy 12th graders took the ACT test and had an average composite score of 22.9. In the Madison school district, 56.6% of 12th graders took the test and the district average composite score was 24.0.
I understand that you are probably tired of hearing from local school board members complaining about the state’s school funding system. But the enormous disparity between what the state will provide to a virtual charter school for enrolling a student living in Madison, as compared to what it will provide the Madison school district to educate the same student, is so utterly wrong-headed as to be almost beyond belief.
Ed Hughes
Madison School Board

Amy Hetzner noted this post on her blog:

An interesting side note: the Madison Metropolitan School District’s current business manager, Erik Kass, was instrumental to helping to keep Waukesha’s virtual high school open and collecting a surplus when he was the business manager for that district.

I found the following comments interesting:

An interesting note is that the complainers never talked about which system more effectively taught students.
Then again, it has never really been about the students.

Madison is spending $418,415,780 to educate 24,295 students ($17,222 each).
Related: Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum? and a few comments on the recent “State of the Madison School District” presentation.
The “Great Recession” has pushed many organizations to seek more effective methods of accomplishing their goals. It would seem that virtual learning and cooperation with nearby higher education institutions would be ideal methods to provide more adult to student services at reduced cost, rather than emphasizing growing adult to adult spending.
Finally Richard Zimman’s recent Madison Rotary talk is well worth revisiting with respect to the K-12 focus on adult employment.
Fascinating.

For Marj Passman & Ed Hughes: Madison School Board Candidates

Capital Times Editorial:

For the first time in years, Madison has no contested School Board races this year.
On April 1, voters will elect two new members of the board. Traditionally, open seat contests have been intense, highlighting ideological, practical, geographic and stylistic divides not just between the candidates but within the community.
This year, there is no such competition.
Retired teacher Marj Passman is running without opposition for Seat 6.
Attorney and veteran community leader Ed Hughes is the sole contender for Seat 7.
They will be elected Tuesday and quickly join a board that faces serious budgeting, curriculum and structural challenges at a time when funding has been squeezed and the district superintendent, Art Rainwater, is retiring.
That does not mean that voters should take a pass on these races, however.

Ed Hughes and Marj Passman on Madison’s Small Learning Community Climate and Grant Application

I sent an email to Ed and Marj, both of whom have announced their plans to run for Madison School Board next spring, asking the following:

I’m writing to see what your thoughts are on the mmsd’s high school “reform” initiative, particularly in light of two things:

  1. The decision to re-apply for the US Dept of Education Grant next month
  2. The lack of any public (any?) evaluation of the results at West and Memorial in light of their stated SLC goals?

In other words, how do you feel about accountability? 🙂

They replied:
Marj Passman:

I am generally supportive of small learning communities and the decision to reapply for a Federal grant. Our high schools continue to provide a rich education for most students — especially the college bound – but there is a significant and maybe growing number of students who are not being engaged. They need our attention. The best evidence is that well implemented small learning communities show promise as part of the solution to increasing the engagement and achievement of those who are not being well served, do no harm and may help others also. My experience as a teacher backs up the research because I found that the caring relationships between staff and students so crucial to reaching those students falling between the cracks on any level of achievement are more likely to develop in smaller settings. Some form of small learning communities are almost a given as part of any reform of our high schools and if we can get financial help from the Federal government with this part of the work, I’m all for it.
I think it is important not to overestimate either the problems or the promise of the proposed solutions. The first step in things like this is to ask what is good that we want to preserve. Our best graduates are competitive with any students anywhere. The majority of our graduates are well prepared for their next academic or vocational endeavors. We need to keep doing the good things we do well. If done successfully, SLCs offer as much for the top achieving students as for any group – individual attention, focus on working with others of their ability, close connection to staff, and consistent evaluation.
You also asked about “accountability” and the evaluations of the existing SLCs. Both evaluations are generally positive, show some progress in important areas and point to places where improvements still need to be made. Neither contains any alarming information that would suggest the SLCs should be abandoned. The data from these limited studies should be looked at with similar research elsewhere that supports SLC as part of the solution to persistent (and in Madison) growing issues.
Like many I applauded when all the Board members asked for a public process for the High Schools of the Future project and like many I have been woefully disappointed with what I’ve seen so far. Because of this and the coming changes in district leadership I’d like to see the redesign time line extended (the final report is due in April) to allow for more input from both the public and the new superintendent.
Thanks for this opportunity
Marjorie Passman
http://marjpassmanforschoolboard.com

Ed Hughes:

From what I know, I am not opposed to MMSD re-applying for the U.S. Dept. of Education grant next month. From my review of the grant application, it did not seem to lock the high schools into new and significant changes. Perhaps that is a weakness of the application. But if the federal government is willing to provide funds to our high schools to do what they are likely to do anyway, I’m all for it.
Like you, I am troubled with the apparent lack of evaluation of results at West and Memorial attributable to their small learning communities initiatives. This may seem inconsistent with my view on applying for the grant, but I do not think we should proceed further down an SLC path without having a better sense of whether in fact it is working at the two schools that have tried it. It seems to me that this should be a major focus of the high school redesign study, but who knows what is going on with that. I asked recently and was told that the study kind of went dormant for awhile after the grant application was submitted.
My own thoughts about high school are pointing in what may be the opposite direction – bigger learning communities rather than smaller. I am concerned about our high schools being able to provide a sufficiently rich range of courses to prepare our students for post-high school life and to retain our students whose families have educational options. The challenges the schools face in this regard were underscored last spring when East eliminated German classes, and now offers only Spanish and French as world language options.
It seems to me that one way to approach this issue is to move toward thinking of the four comprehensive high schools as separate campuses of a single, unified, city-wide high school in some respects. We need to do a lot more to install sufficient teleconferencing equipment to allow the four schools to be linked – so that a teacher in a classroom at Memorial, say, can be seen on a screen in classrooms in the other three schools. In fact, views of all four linked classrooms should simultaneously be seen on the screen. With this kind of linkage, we could take advantage of economies of scale and have enough student interest to justify offering classes in a rich selection of languages to students in all four high schools. I’m sure there are other types of classes where linked classrooms would also make sense.
This kind of approach raises issues. For example, LaFollette’s four block system would be incompatible with this approach. There would also be a question of whether there would need to be a teacher or educational assistant in every classroom, even if the students in the classroom are receiving instruction over the teleconferencing system from another teacher in another school. I would hope that these are the kinds of issues the high school re-design group would be wrestling with. Perhaps they are, or will, but at this point there seems to be no way to know.
There are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts prompted by your question and by Maya Cole’s post about the high school re-design study. Feel free to do what you want with this response.

Related Links:

Thanks to Ed and Marj for taking the time to share their thoughts on this important matter.

“We Know Best”, Redux

Margot Cleveland: Two recent bills proposed by state legislators in Illinois and Iowa reveal a disturbing perspective on parental rights that’s becoming more prevalent in our country: the belief that parents cannot be trusted to care for their children. The Swiftly-Defeated Illinois Bill In Illinois, a little over a week ago, Democratic state Rep. Monica […]

K-12 Governance Diversity: the 2019 Madison School Board Election, Parental Choice and our long term, disastrous reading results

Chris Rickert: Endorsements in this month’s School Board primary from the influential Madison teachers union include one for a candidate who sends her two children to the kind of charter school strongly opposed by the union. Madison Teachers Inc. this week endorsed Ali Muldrow over David Blaska, Laila Borokhim and Albert Bryan for Seat 4; […]

Commentary on a 2019 Madison School Board Candidate Forum

David Blaska: The occasion was a school board candidate forum. An organization named GRUMPS sponsored it. It stands for GRandparents United for Madison Public Schools. Its major domos are former school board members Nan Brien, Anne Arnesen, Barbara Arnold, Arlene Silviera, and Carol Carstensen. We also encountered former board guys Bill Keyes, Bill Clingan, and […]

Meet the ‘crazy’ moms saying one of Pa.’s top-rated school districts can’t teach reading

Avi Wolfman-Arent: The small parent rebellion forming in one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest school districts began at a Starbucks in suburban Chester County. Over coffee, three moms — Kate Mayer, Jamie Lynch, and Wendy Brooks — swapped stories about how their kids struggled to read as they moved through the Tredyffrin/Easttown school district, located about 30 […]

Advocating status quo, non diverse K-12 Madison Schools Governance

Negassi Tesfamichael: MTI cited Carusi’s opposition to voucher and independent charter schools in its endorsement. “Carusi is opposed to vouchers and independent charter schools and strongly believes that we need to continuously work to improve our public schools, rather than support alternatives,” MTI’s endorsement said. Caire’s One City Schools, which expanded from One City Early […]

UW rejects application for independent Madison charter school

Chris Rickert: According to emails released to the State Journal under the state’s open records law, Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham on Sept. 10 asked her chief of staff, Ricardo Jara, and other front-office officials whether Arbor was “worth trying to stop? Or change somehow? If so, how?” Cheatham expressed the district’s opposition to the school in […]

“One issue state officials say they have detected as they monitor the effectiveness of the READ Act is that not all teachers are up to date on how best to teach reading.”

Christopher Osher: But districts are free to use their READ Act per-pupil funds on whatever curriculum they want, even on interventions researchers have found ineffective. “Typically, as with any education policy, we’re only given so much authority on what we can tell districts to do and what we monitor for,” Colsman said in an interview […]

deja vu: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

Laurie Frost and Heff Henriques: Children who are not proficient readers by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Additionally, two-thirds of them will end up in prison or on welfare. Though these dismal trajectories are well known, Madison School District’s reading scores for minority students remain unconscionably low and […]

Commentary on Redistributed Taxpayer Funds and the Madison School District (no mention of total spending or effectiveness)

Former Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: It turns out that this isn’t true. Explaining why gets a bit complicated, but here goes. Mr. Hughes voted against the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School. Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts. Madison Wisconsin High […]

“Folks, we have a huge reading crisis”

Alan Borsuk: 20 percent. That is roughly the percentage of Milwaukee students, both in public and private schools, who were rated proficient or advanced in reading in tests in spring 2018 — and it’s about the same figure as every year for many years. Folks, we have a huge reading crisis. There may be more […]

Organization vs Mission: Madison’s legacy K-12 Governance model vs Parent and Student choice; 2018

Chris Rickert: Meanwhile, in a sign of how the Madison district is responding to subsequent charter applications, former Madison School Board member Ed Hughes said he went before the Goodman Community Center’s board on the district’s behalf on Sept. 24 to express the district’s opposition to another proposed non-district charter school, Arbor Community School, which […]

“And I am going to call it Madison Prep.”

Amber Walker: Critics were also concerned about Madison Prep’s operating costs — totaling $11,000 per student — and its reliance on non-union staff in the wake of Wisconsin’s Act 10, a state law that severely limited collective bargaining rights of teachers and other state employees which passed early in 2011. Caire said despite the challenges, […]

Commentary on Diversity and Academic Goalposts

Ed Hughes: Madison West students did better in every category where there is a basis for comparison. (The number of Madison West students of two or more races who took the test was below the threshold for DPI to calculate an average score.) So why does Middleton have the higher overall average? This outcome is […]

A competitive Madison School Board Race?

Doug Erickson: Madison School Board members Ed Hughes and Michael Flores said Thursday they’ll run for re-election — Hughes for a fourth term, Flores for a second. Candidate filing for the seats began Thursday and ends Jan. 3. Terms are for three years. Hughes (Seat 7) and Flores (Seat 6) are the only members of […]

Madison’s Reading Data, an Update

Our community, via the quite traditional Madison School District, has long tolerated disastrous reading results. Has anything changed? The District’s 2015-2016 “annual report” includes a bit of data on reading and math: Tap for larger versions. Unfortunately, the annual report lacks a significant amount of data, from enrollment to staffing and total spending. Boston publishes […]

Commentary On Improving Madison’s $17k/student School District

Ed Hughes: long arc of successful school improvement efforts, we should pay more attention to long-term trends than test-to-test or even year-to-year progress. This requires a kind of patience that coexists uneasily with the sense of urgency for our urban public schools. It also calls for the kind of long-term commitment that isn’t very compatible […]

Madison’s Schwerpunkt: Government School District Power Play: The New Handbook Process is worth a look

Wisconsin’s stürm and drang over “Act 10” is somewhat manifested in Madison. Madison’s government schools are the only Wisconsin District, via extensive litigation, to still have a collective bargaining agreement with a teacher union, in this case, Madison Teachers, Inc. The Madison School Board and Administration are working with the local teachers union on a […]

K-12 Governance: Proposal May Change Madison’s Non-Diverse School Governance/Choice Model

Molly Beck: “We are confident the proposal can fundamentally transform the educational opportunities that are available to students in Wisconsin’s two largest school districts,” he said. Delaporte pointed to Department of Public Instruction data that shows less than 40 percent of Madison students have tested proficient in reading in recent years — slightly higher than […]

The Unfortunate Trend Toward Opting Out of Standardized Tests

Ed Hughes: Ignore this. Parents should not opt their children out of the MAP test. That won’t accomplish anything but frustrate the school district’s assessment of our own performance and blur our vision of where we should be focusing our improvement efforts. There are plenty of ways to support our public schools but this isn’t […]

Already a friend to charter schools, Wisconsin could see more growth under budget proposal; one size fits all continues in Madison

Molly Beck: “That charter authorizer is without accountability, if you will, to the voter in any way,” she said. “And so why would we want to do that? That’s what I would like explained to me. Why would that be a good thing for the state of Wisconsin? Honestly, I can’t fathom what the justification […]

Madison Schools Should Apply Act 10

Mitch Henck: This is Madison. I learned that phrase when I moved here from Green Bay in 1992. It means that the elites who drive the politics and the predominate culture are more liberal or “progressive” than backward places out state. I knew I was in Madison as a reporter when parents and activists were […]

Commentary on Madison’s Long Term Achievement Gap Challenges; Single Year Data Points…

Pat Schneider: “It seems reasonable to attribute a good share of the improvements to the specific and focused strategies we have pursued this year,” Hughes writes. The process of improvement will become self-reinforcing, he predicts. “This bodes well for better results on the horizon.” Not so fast, writes Madison attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick in his Systems […]

MTI Preserves, Gains Contracts Through June, 2016

Madison Teachers, Inc. Newsletter, via a kind Jeannie Kamholtz email (PDF): Last fall, MTI asked the District to bargain Contracts for multiple years. They refused, and a Contract was negotiated for the 2014-15 school year. After hundreds of MTI members, sporting their MTI red shirts, attended two school board meetings in late May, the Board […]

Hey, guilty liberals, how about OK for Madison Prep?

David Blaska:

Nobody does guilt like a Madison liberal! The president of the Madison School Board tells me that I really didn’t make that. All along, I have been swimming in the water of white privilege.
I wish Ed Hughes had told me about white privilege when, growing up on the farm, I was mucking out the old barn with a shovel. I knew I was swimming in something but I didn’t think it was white privilege.
Ed is an honorable public servant, mindful of the dismayingly poor unemployment, incarceration, and graduation rates among people of color here in the Emerald City.
“We white folks pretty much get to set the rules in Madison,” Hughes apologizes. He meant “liberal white folks.” They’ve been running Madison for 40 years, since Paul Soglin first became mayor. It’s 50 years since LBJ’s Great Society. Something besides the Obamacare website ain’t workin’.
Allow this Madison minority — I’m a conservative — to propose a fix: If a crusading young black educator named Kaleem Caire returns to the Madison School Board with a plan for a school focused on tackling minority underachievement, give it a chance! Ed, you voted with the majority to kill Madison Prep.

Much more on the rejected Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

ObamaCore Public Education, or “We Know Best”

Lee Cary:

With the nationalizing of the American healthcare system well underway, nationalizing public education pre-K through 12 is the next big thing on the progressive agenda. Wait for it.
It will be called ObamaCore Education, for short.
The original 2008 Obama campaign Blueprint for Change document included a “Plan to Give Every American Child a World Class Education” and linked to a 15-page, single-spaced document entitled “Barack Obama’s Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education.” It offered a litany of proposals as part of a broad, federal intervention into America’s public education system.
A case can be made that the regime would have been better off, in the long run, nationalizing public education before healthcare, because the fundamental transformation of education would have been easier.
How so? you ask.
The reasons for the relative ease — compared to ObamaCare — of installing ObamaCore Education were cited in the American Thinker back in June 2009.

Related: Up for re-election Madison School Board President Ed Hughes: “The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”. Remarkable.

Encouraging Competitive Madison School Board Elections

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

t would be terrific if three or more people run for Passman’s open seat, triggering a Feb. 18 primary, followed by the general election April 1. That would allow more debate — and community engagement — on the future of our schools.
The School Board seat held by president Ed Hughes also is up for election this spring. We admire Hughes for his public service. He’s capable and level-headed.
But incumbents shouldn’t get a free pass. We hope someone — or more than one challenger — will step forward to give voters a choice.
When it comes to School Board elections, the more candidates, the better. Our community deserves the best leaders possible.

Much more on the 2014 Madison School Board election, here.

Commentary on Wisconsin Virtual School Governance

Madison School Board President Ed Hughes

Pending Senate Bill 76 is another volley in the war Wisconsin Republican legislators have unleashed on local control. The bill would further undermine the authority of locally-elected school boards to determine the number of charter schools that operate within their school districts.
Senators Darling and Olson introduced an amendment to the bill on October 31. The amendment provision making it easier for a school district to convert all of its schools to charter schools has already drawn attention. What seems to have escaped notice so far is that Senators Olson and Darling may have mixed up their holidays – their Halloween amendment provides yet another Christmas present for their well-heeled friends at K12 Inc. and the for-profit virtual charter school industry.
The poor performance of virtual charter schools in Wisconsin has resulted in few if any negative consequences for their operators. But this past year, a slight dose of accountability has slipped into the mix with the advent of school district report cards issued by DPI. Senators Olson and Darling’s amendment nips that positive trend in the bud by stripping virtual charter schools out of the home school district for report card purposes. It is hard to see this as anything other than a sell-out to K12 and their virtual charter chums.
There are currently 28 virtual charter schools operating in Wisconsin. Many of them – like Middleton-Cross Plains 21st century eSchool – are wholly operated by and genuinely integrated into the home school district. In other cases, however, the home school district serves as the equivalent of a mailing address for a virtual charter school that is operated by an out-of-state, for-profit vendor.

Do we apply the same governance standards to traditional school districts that spend at least double the virtual schools?
Much more on Ed Hughes, here.

At-risk Madison students play school district’s waiting game

Chris Rickert:

@hen I asked district officials why they aren’t interested in throwing some of that money the way of programs like these, the answer I got can be boiled down to what Chicago Cubs fans like me are all too well accustomed to hearing: Wait until next year.
“Going forward, the district will work to further align our resources with the district’s framework and support schools to the fullest,” said district spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson in a statement. “Until we do that, we don’t want to ask taxpayers for additional investments.”
School Board president Ed Hughes said that the district’s state aid next year would decrease by about 50 cents on each extra dollar it were to spend out of the property tax cut windfall this year.
“So if we don’t increase our spending now and instead are able to lower our tax levy, this makes it more likely that we’ll also be able to keep the tax levy at a manageable level for next year as well,” he said.
School board member T.J. Mertz described this year’s budget as “transitional” and said, “at this point, the current administrative team believes we need to concentrate on doing better with what we have while figuring out what we are not doing but should be, or aren’t doing enough of (and what we are doing and isn’t working).”

Commentary on the Common Core & Madison Schools

Madison School Board President Ed Hughes:

As I hope someone might have noticed, I have not been posting much lately. Part of the reason is that I have another outlet. I have been writing a column in the school district’s bi-weekly family newsletter.
My latest column focused on a recent School Board retreat where we learned more about the Common Core State Standards. Even though the family newsletter is a district publication, I should point out that the views I express in the column (as well as in this blog) are my own and do not necessarily represent the views, positions or policies of the Madison Metropolitan School District. But however unofficial my words may be, here is what I wrote:
On Saturday, September 28, the Madison School Board held the first of our quarterly board retreats. We get together on a Saturday for an extended discussion of a few topics of particular interest. Our focus this time was on the much-misunderstood Common Core academic standards for literacy and math.

On Mary Burke, the Rejected Madison Preparatory IB Charter School, The School Board and Running for Governor

Madison School Board President Ed Hughes:

Mary Burke’s past activities are coming under increased scrutiny now that she is an active candidate for governor. Mary has generously supported different educational initiatives for many years. Her primary focus has been the AVID/TOPS partnership between the Madison School District and the Boys and Girls Club. But her pledge of support for the Madison Prep charter school proposal has drawn the most attention. Since I was more involved in the Madison Prep saga than most, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a summary of what I know about Mary’s involvement.
In December, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal to the Madison School Board to establish a charter school called Madison Prep. The Urban League described the school as “a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men, particularly young men of color.” The school was intended to inculcate a culture of hard-work and achievement among its students through a host of practices, including single-sex classrooms, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, longer school days and school years, intensive mentoring, and obligatory parental involvement.
Madison Prep was controversial from the start and the initial proposal was adjusted in response to various concerns. By the fall of 2011, Madison Prep was planned to be an instrumentality charter school, like our existing charter schools Nuestro Mundo and Badger Rock. As an instrumentality, all teachers and staff would have been union members.

Burke’s candidacy will bring additional statewide attention (and rhetoric) to the Madison schools, particularly its challenges. It will be interesting to see what, if anything Mary Burke says about her time on the local school board.

Comments & Links on Madison’s Latest Teacher Union Agreement

Andrea Anderson:

Under the new contracts clerical and technical employees will be able to work 40-hour work weeks compared to the current 38.75, and based on the recommendation of principals, employees who serve on school-based leadership teams will be paid $20 per hour.
Additionally, six joint committees will be created to give employees a say in workplace issues and address topics such as planning time, professional collaboration and the design of parent-teacher conferences.
Kerry Motoviloff, a district instructional resource teacher and MTI member, spoke at the beginning of the meeting thanking School Board members for their collective bargaining and work in creating the committees that are “getting the right people at the right table to do the right work.”
Cheatham described the negotiations with the union as “both respectful and enormously productive,” adding that based on conversations with district employees the contract negotiations “accomplished the goal they set out to accomplish.”

Pat Schneider:

“Madison is in the minority. Very few teachers are still under contract,” said Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Fewer than 10 of 424 school districts in the state have labor contracts with teachers for the current school year, she said Wednesday.
And while Brey said WEAC’s significance is not undermined by the slashed number of teacher contracts, at least one state legislator believes the state teacher’s union is much less effective as a resource than it once was.
Many school districts in the state extended teacher contracts through the 2011-2012 school year after Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s law gutting collective bargaining powers of most public employees, was implemented in 2011. The Madison Metropolitan School District extended its teacher contract for two years — through the 2013-2014 school year — after Dane County Judge Juan Colas struck down key provisions of Act 10 in September 2012.
The contract ratified by the members Monday will be in effect until June 30, 2015.

Andrea Anderson:

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty emailed a letter to Cheatham and the School Board warning that a contract extension could be in violation of Act 10.
Richard Esenberg, WILL president, said he sent the letter because “we think there are people who believe, in Wisconsin, that there is somehow a window of opportunity to pass collective bargaining agreements in violation of Act 10, and we don’t think that.”
If the Supreme Court rules Act 10 is constitutional all contracts signed will be in violation of the law, according to Esenberg.
Esenberg said he has not read the contract and does not know if the district and union contracts have violated collective bargaining agreements. But, he said, “I suspect this agreement does.”

Pat Schneider:

The contract does not “take back” any benefits, Matthews says. However, it calls for a comprehensive analysis of benefits that could include a provision to require employees to pay some or more toward health insurance premiums if they do not get health care check-ups or participate in a wellness program.
Ed Hughes, president of the Madison School Board, said that entering into labor contracts while the legal issues surrounding Act 10 play out in the courts was “the responsible thing to do. It provides some stability to do the important work we need to do in terms of getting better results for our students.”
Hughes pointed out that the contract establishes a half-dozen joint committees of union and school district representatives that will take up issues including teacher evaluations, planning time and assignments. The contract calls for mediation on several of the issues if the joint committees cannot reach agreement.
“Hopefully this will be a precursor of the way we will work together in years to come, whatever the legal framework is,” Hughes said.
Matthews, too, was positive about the potential of the joint committees.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty:

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg warns, “The Madison School Board is entering a legally-gray area. Judge Colas’ decision has no effect on anyone outside of the parties involved. The Madison School Board and Superintendent Cheatham – in addition to the many teachers in the district – were not parties to the lawsuit. As we have continued to say, circuit court cases have no precedential value, and Judge Colas never ordered anyone to do anything.”
He continued, “If the Madison School District were to collectively bargain in a way that violates Act 10, it could be exposed to litigation by taxpayers or teachers who do not wish to be bound to an illegal contract or to be forced to contribute to an organization that they do not support.” The risk is not theoretical. Last spring, WILL filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Area Technical College alleging such a violation.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s letter to Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham (PDF).
The essential question, how does Madison’s non-diverse K-12 governance model perform academically? Presumably, student achievement is job one for our $15k/student district.
Worth a re-read: Then Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Continuing the Voucher Debate (This Time 100% Insult-Free!): Remarkable

Madison School Board President Ed Hughes

Rick Esenberg has responded to my last blog post, which was critical of a short article he had written about the difference between supporters and opponents of school vouchers.
I wrote that Esenberg’s analysis was superficial and his characterization of voucher opponents insulting. While decrying the unflattering terms I employed, Esenberg writes that my analysis of his piece is sophomoric, cartoonish and simplistic. Okay, fine. Let’s move on.
Esenberg writes that I overlooked his principal point, which is that people’s views on vouchers are heavily influenced by their predispositions. That seems to me to be obvious. What I found more interesting about his article is that it suggested the challenge of discussing whether vouchers represent sound public policy without resorting to arguments about whether public schools or voucher schools lead to better learning outcomes or which end up costing taxpayers more. It’s not that these aren’t important considerations, but the various rhetorical thrusts and parries along these lines have been repeated almost ad nauseum and neither side is going to convince the other on either basis. Let’s explore some other arguments.

The ongoing Madison School Board voucher rhetoric is ironic, given the disastrous reading scores.

“The School District of Choice in Dane County”

A. David Dahmer:

MMSD School Board President Ed Hughes said that public education these days is under a lot of pointed criticism if not under an outright attack. “Initiatives like the voucher expansion program are premised on the notion that urban traditional public schools are not up to the task of effectively educating a diverse body of students,” Hughes says. “We’re out to prove that they are wrong. We agree with Superintendent Cheatham that in Madison all of the pieces are in place for us to be successful. Following the framework that she will describe to you, we set the goal for ourselves to be the model of a thriving urban school district that is built on strong community partnerships as well as genuine collaboration of teachers and staff. As we do that, we will be the school district of choice in Dane County.”
Cheatham said that Madison has a lot of great things going for it, but also had its share of challenges.
“A continually changing set of priorities has made it difficult for our educators to remain focused on the day-to-day work of teaching and learning, a culture of autonomy that has made it difficult to guaranteed access to a challenging curriculum for all students,” Cheatham said. “The system is hard for many of our students to navigate which results in too many of our students falling through the cracks.”
It starts with a simple but bold vision that every school is a thriving school that prepares every student for college, career, and community. “From now on, we will be incredibly focused on making that day-to-day vision become a reality,” she said.
“Many districts create plans at central office and implement them from the top down. Instead, schools will become the driving force of change in Madison,” Cheatham said. “Rather than present our educators with an ever-changing array of strategies, we will focus on what we know works — high quality teaching, coherent instruction, and strong leadership — and implement these strategies extremely well.”

Related: The Dichotomy of Madison School Board Governance: “Same Service” vs. “having the courage and determination to stay focused on this work and do it well is in itself a revolutionary shift for our district”.
“The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”.
Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

“The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”


Where have all the students gone?
Madison School Board President Ed Hughes:

Esenberg sets out to identify the fundamental differences between voucher advocates and opponents. His thesis is that views on vouchers derive from deeper beliefs than objective assessments of how well voucher schools perform or concerns about vouchers draining funds from public schools. To him, your take on vouchers depends on how you view the world.
Esenberg asserts that voucher advocates are united by their embrace of three fundamental principles: that a centralized authority is unlikely to be able to decide what is best for all; that families should be trusted to select their children’s schools since ordinary people are capable of making choices for themselves without paternalistic direction; and that “government does not do diversity, experimentation and choice very well.”
By implication, he asserts that voucher opponents think that a centralized authority will be able to decide what’s best for all, that families shouldn’t be trusted to make choices for their children, and that government control is the best way to foster innovation.
And there you have it. Your views on school voucher expansion are entirely explained by whether you prefer individual freedom, like the voucher advocates, or stultifying government control, like the voucher opponents. In cinematic terms, voucher opponents are the legions of lifeless, gray drones in Apple’s famous 1984 commercial and voucher supporters are the colorful rebel, bravely challenging the control of Big Brother and hurling her sledgehammer to smash mindless conformity. You couldn’t ask for a more sophisticated analysis than that, could you?
While his thesis invites mockery, Esenberg’s short article does present a bit of a challenge to voucher opponents like myself. Can we set out a coherent justification for our opposition that doesn’t depend on the facts that voucher schools drain needed resources from public schools and don’t perform any better? Sweeping those fairly compelling points aside, Esenberg asks, in effect, what else you got?

Mr Hughes anti-voucher rhetoric is fascinating on several levels:
1. The Madison School District’s long term, disastrous reading results. How much time and money has been wasted on anti-voucher rhetoric? Reading has long been job one.
2. Local private schools do not have much, if any availability.
3. Madison spends double the national average per student (some of which has been spent on program explosion). Compare Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending.
4. Madison’s inability to address its long-term disastrous reading results will bring changes from State or Federal legislation or via litigation.
5. Superintendent Cheatham cited Long Beach and Boston as urban districts that have “narrowed the achievement gap”. Both districts offer a variety of school governance models, which is quite different than Madison’s long-time “one size fits all approach”.
I recall being astonished that previous Madison School District administrators planned to spend time lobbying at the State level for this or that change – while “Rome is burning“. Ironically, Superintendent Cheatham recently said:

“Rather than do a lot of work on opposing the voucher movement, we are going to focus on making sure our schools are the best schools possible and the schools of choice in Madison,” Cheatham said.

Mr. Hughes in 2005:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

A great, salient quote. I would hope that the District would focus completely on the matter at hand, disastrous reading scores. Taking care of that problem – and we have the resources to do so – will solve lots of other atmospheric and perception issues.
In closing, I sense politics in the voucher (and anti-open enrollment) rhetoric. Two Madison School Board seats will be on the Spring, 2014 ballot. One is currently occupied by Mr. Hughes, the other by Marj Passman. In addition, local politics play a role in becoming school board President.

Commentary on New Madison Superintendent Cheatham’s “Style”….

Paul Fanlund

he gist of her framework is hard to argue. It calls for a renewed focus on learning, a school system that makes curriculum consistent across the district and better measures student and teacher performance. In sum, it is a back-to-basics approach that does not require new money, at least for now.
Madison, of course, has been grappling with its changing demographics where many students, especially minority children, struggle academically. In shorthand, it’s called the “achievement gap,” and the approach to date has been a long list of seemingly laudable, logical programs.
Now comes Cheatham saying we don’t need more money, at least not yet, but instead we need to rebuild the foundation. Might some see that as counterintuitive, I wonder?
“It might be,” she responds. “My take is that we were adding on with a big price tag to an infrastructure that was weak. … Does that make sense? The bones of the organization were weak and we didn’t do the hard work of making sure that the day-to-day processes … were strong before deciding to make targeted investments on top of a strong foundation.”
She continues: “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some targeted investments down the line. I suspect that will be in things like technology, for instance, which is a real challenge … and is going to have a price tag later. I need to make sure that the foundation is strong first.”
Cheatham alludes to her Chicago experience. “Having worked with lots of schools — and lots of schools that have struggled — and worked with schools targeting narrowing and closure of the achievement gap, these fundamental practices” make the biggest difference. “It’s that day-to-day work that ultimately produces results and student learning.”

We shall see. Local media have greeted prior Superintendents, including Cheryl Wilhoyte with style points, prior to the beginning of tough decision-making.
Related: The Dichotomy of Madison School Board Governance: “Same Service” vs. “having the courage and determination to stay focused on this work and do it well is in itself a revolutionary shift for our district”.
Another interesting governance question, particularly when changes to the 157 page teacher union contract, or perhaps “handbook” arise, is where the school board stands? Two seats will be on the Spring, 2014 ballot. They are presently occupied by Marj Passman and Ed Hughes. In addition, not all members may vote on teacher union related matters due to conflict of interests. Finally, Mary Burke’s possible race for the Governor’s seat (2014) may further change board dynamics.
I hope that Superintendent Cheatham’s plans to focus the organization on teaching become a reality. Nothing is more important given the District’s disastrous reading results. That said, talk is cheap and we’ve seen this movie before.

Health insurance changes a cure for what ails Madison schools budget?



Christ Rickert

The Madison School District won an historic concession from its teachers union over the last two years — the ability to require that teachers pay part of their health insurance premiums.
It came as the district was quickly extending union contracts before a law eliminating most collective bargaining rights took effect, and again while that law was held up in court.
But now as the district goes about crafting a 2013-14 budget that — among other cost-savings measures — reduces maintenance spending, freezes equipment budgets and includes no money for new efforts to close the district’s achievement gap, it doesn’t appear there’s much interest in implementing the concession.
The budget proposal from new Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham doesn’t subject teachers to health insurance premiums, and that’s fine with School Board President Ed Hughes.
“Because of our recent transitions, this was not the budget to take up significant changes to our structure of salary and benefits,” he said in an email. “I and other board members are looking forward to an in-depth review of salary and benefit levels as part of next year’s budget, when we’ll have the benefit of input from Jen Cheatham and (assistant superintendent for business services) Mike Barry, as well as from our affected teachers and staff. I’m sure that health insurance contributions will be part of that discussion.”
“Recent transitions” didn’t keep Cheatham from proposing changes to the district’s salary schedules, though.

Madison’s expensive approach to healthcare benefits are not a new subject.
Much more on the Madison School District’s 2013-2014 plans for spending and property tax increases, here.
Mr. Hughes in 2005

Turning big ships or changing large organizations

Doug Lederman:

On what one might call the “vulnerability index” — how higher education institutions shake out in terms of their financial viability in the short- to mid-term — the universities represented in a session titled “Remaining Nimble in the Face of External Challenges” at the annual meeting of college business officers here Tuesday are some of the lucky ones.
Unlike some smaller and less-differentiated private and public colleges and universities, public flagship universities like the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois and selective (and highly visible) private institutions like the University of Notre Dame are not only going to survive whatever turmoil higher education faces in the next decade or two — at least — they’re likely to thrive, too.
But that doesn’t mean they can stand pat in the face of the many pressures they (like other colleges and universities) are facing: reduced state appropriations for public institutions, public pressure to control (if not lower) tuition, escalating health care and other costs, and many more. So before a room of 200-plus finance administrators at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, leading officials at Berkeley, Illinois and Notre Dame described how they have been “managing through uncertainty,” as Patrice DeCorrevont, national head of higher education banking at JPMorgan Chase, described the environment in which they and everyone else in higher education have been operating.

Related: Madison School Board President Ed Hughes.
Two Madison school board seats will be on the spring 2014 ballot. Ed Hughes and Marj Passman presently occupy those seats. Learn more at the City of Madison Clerk’s website.

Oconomowoc & Madison

I read with interest Madison School Board President Ed Hughes’ blog post on local spending, redistributed state tax dollars & property tax increases. Mr. Hughes mentioned Oconomowoc:

Superintendent Cheatham and new Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Mike Barry (recently arrived from the Oconomowoc school district to replace Erik Kass) promise a zero-based approach to budgeting for the 2014-15 school year, so the budgeting process promises to be more lively next year.

Mr. Hughes, writing on May 3, 2012: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay..
Alan Borsuk recently followed up on the changes (fewer, but better paid teachers) in Oconomowoc.
Rocketship and Avenues are also worth looking into.

Madison’s Proposed Property Tax Increase: Additional links, notes and emails

I received a kind email from Madison School Board President Ed Hughes earlier today regarding the proposed property tax increase associated with the 2013-2014 District budget.
Ed’s email:

Jim —
Your comparison to the tax rates in Middleton is a bit misleading. The Middleton-Cross Plains school district that has a mill rate that is among the lowest in Dane County. I am attaching a table (.xls file) that shows the mill rates for the Dane County school districts. As you will see, Madison’s mill rate is lower than the county average, though higher than Middleton’s. (Middleton has property value/student that is about 10% higher than Madison, which helps explain the difference.)
The table also includes the expenses/student figures relied upon by DPI for purposes of calculating general state aid for the 2012-13 school year. You may be surprised to see that Madison’s per-student expenditures as measured for these purposes is among the lowest in Dane County. Madison’s cost/student expenditures went up in the recently-completed school year, for reasons I explain here: http://tinyurl.com/obd2wty
Ed

My followup email:
Hi Ed:
Thanks so much for taking the time to write and sending this along – including your helpful post.
I appreciate and will post this information.
That said, and as you surely know, “mill rate” is just one part of the tax & spending equation:
1. District spending growth driven by new programs, compensation & step increases, infinite campus, student population changes, open enrollment out/in,
2. ongoing “same service” governance, including Fund 80,
3. property tax base changes (see the great recession),
4. exempt properties (an issue in Madison) and
5. growth in other property taxes such as city, county and tech schools.
Homeowners see their “total” property taxes increasing annually, despite declining to flat income. Middleton’s 16% positive delta is material and not simply related to the “mill rate”.
Further, I continue to be surprised that the budget documents fail to include total spending. How are you evaluating this on a piecemeal basis without the topline number? – a number that seems to change every time a new document is discussed.
Finally, I would not be quite as concerned with the ongoing budget spaghetti if Madison’s spending were more typical for many districts along with improved reading results. We seem to be continuing the “same service” approach of spending more than most and delivering sub-par academic results for many students. (Note the recent expert review of the Madison schools Analysis: Madison School District has resources to close achievement gap.)
That is the issue for our community.
Best wishes,
Jim
Related: Middleton-Cross Plains’ $91,025,771 2012-2013 approved budget (1.1mb PDF) for 6,577 students, or $13,840.01 per student, roughly 4.7% less than Madison’s 2012-2013 spending.

Stagnant School Governance; Tax & Spending Growth and the “NSA’s European Adventure”

The Madison School District’s recent rhetoric around annual property tax increases (after a significant increase in redistributed state tax dollars last year and a “return to normal” this year) is, to the ongoing observer, unsurprising. We appear to be in the Rainwater era “same service” approach to everything, from million$ spent on a partially implemented Infinite Campus to long-term disastrous reading scores.
Steve Coll’s 5 July 2013 New Yorker column nails it:

The most likely explanation is that President Obama never carefully discussed or specifically approved the E.U. bugging, and that no cabinet-level body ever reviewed, on the President’s behalf, the operation’s potential costs in the event of exposure. America’s post-September 11th national-security state has become so well financed, so divided into secret compartments, so technically capable, so self-perpetuating, and so captured by profit-seeking contractors bidding on the next big idea about big-data mining that intelligence leaders seem to have lost their facility to think independently. Who is deciding what spying projects matter most and why?

Much more on annual local property tax increases, here:

The Madison School Board should limit the school property tax hike to the rate of inflation next year, even if that means scaling back a proposed 1.5 percent across-the-board salary increase for school district employees, says member Mary Burke.
“I think in an environment where we’ve seen real wages in Dane County decrease, and a lot of people are on fixed incomes, we have to work as hard as possible to limit any increase to the inflation rate,” Burke said Tuesday in an interview.

But School Board discussions have focused around reducing the proposed salary hike, and cutting back on facility maintenance to pare down the $392 million proposed budget enough to bring the property tax increase to 4 or 5 percent, board President Ed Hughes told me.
The district under state law could increase its levy by as much as $18,385,847 or 9 percent. Keeping the increase to around the rate of inflation would mean an increase of less 2 percent.

Board member TJ Mertz can’t vote on salaries because his wife is a teacher’s aide with the school district, he told me, but he has long been outspoken in his belief in good pay for teachers to ensure the best academic achievement for students.
“As a citizen, I understand our staff needs to be compensated,” he said, adding that teachers have taken losses in take-home pay since they were required to begin making contributions to their pensions in 2011. “If the state won’t invest in our children, it has to come from the property tax,” he said.
Mertz said he would prefer a tax increase steeper than the 4 percent or 5 percent the board as a whole is focusing on. “I firmly believe the most important thing we can do is invest in our students; the question should not be what property tax levy can we afford,” he said.

I appreciate Schneider’s worthwhile questions, including a discussion of “program reviews”:

Several School Board members interviewed for this story stressed that the 2013-2014 budget will be a transitional one, before a broad re-evaluation of spending planned by Cheatham can be conducted.

Yet, it would be useful to ask if in fact programs will be reviewed and those found wanting eliminated. The previous Superintendent, Dan Nerad, discussed program reviews as well.
Madison Schools’ 2013-2014 Budget Charts, Documents, Links, Background & Missing Numbers.
The Madison School Board seat currently occupied by Mr. Hughes (Seat 7, and Seat 6 – presently Marj Passman) will be on the Spring, 2014 ballot (candidate information is available at the Madison City Clerk’s website).









Voucher Commentary from Madison’s new School Board President

2013-2014 Madison School Board President Ed Hughes:

The proponents of the proposed expansion of Wisconsin’s private-school voucher program have run out of substantive arguments. Governor Walker’s “This is about children” illustrates how vacuous their efforts at persuasion have become.
When Governor Walker’s budget was first announced, his initial talking points in support of his voucher expansion plan featured the claim that schools in the nine targeted school districts were failing and vouchers were necessary to provide a lifeline to students who needed help to pursue other schooling options. Neither the governor nor his supporters are pushing that argument any more. It seems that they got the point that it is not a smart move politically for the governor to go around trashing the public schools in some of the larger urban areas of the state.
While proponents have claimed that students in voucher schools do better academically, the wind has gone out of the sails of that argument as well. DPI has reported that students in voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine performed worse on the WKCE than students in the public schools in those communities. Voucher school advocates can point to data that supposedly support their view, opponents can counter with contrary figures, and at best the evidence on improved student performance is a wash. There is no reason to think that students in the nine districts targeted for voucher expansion would do any better in the private schools in their area than they would in their neighborhood public schools. No one has offered an argument to the contrary.
Voucher proponents sometimes try to construct a cost-savings argument around the fact that the per-pupil amounts that voucher students would receive are less than the average per-pupil expenditures by their school districts. But this argument goes nowhere because no one is proposing that the public schools shut down as voucher schools expand. Consequently, there’s really not much of a response to the observation credited to former Governor Tommy Thompson that “We can’t afford two systems of education.”
Additionally, voucher schools have not discovered a magic bullet that allows them to educate students across the spectrum of needs more economically. Here’s a telling excerpt from an op ed by the Choice Schools Association advocating for much higher voucher payments and posted on line by the right-wing MacIver Institute:

Vouchers are hardly an existential threat to the Madison School District. Rather, the District’s long term disastrous reading scores are the essential issue, one that merits endless attention and improvement.
2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before.

Madison Schools’ Budget Updates: Board Questions, Spending Through 3.31.2013, Staffing Plan Changes



Steve Hartley, Madison Schools Chief of Staff:

Attached is a spreadsheet listing questions received from BOE members to date and some of our responses. Over the course of the next two months, we will continue to collect your questions and respond at both Operational Support and Regular Board meetings.

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham (PDF):

The draft budget included several new positions for the Board’s consideration. After refining and prioritizing with staff and vetting with principals, we are only asking for approval of two essential positions at this point. The position changes represent a savings of just over $2 million from the draft budget.
As we prepare for next year, we must keep our efforts and resources focused on providing supports to schools to improve instruction. We must also be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars by reducing the impact of our budget.
To get to these recommendations, we conducted a rigorous examination of positions funded in the draft budget to decide what we believe is absolutely necessary right now. Much of the work we need to do next year is about improving the systems and structures for how we serve students, not adding additional resources. It will be critical going forward that we narrow our focus to the strategies that we know work, implement them well and sustain the focus over time.
So far, we have only considered the position decisions that we need the Board to approve. Over the next two months, we will continue to work through the draft budget in order to reduce the tax impact and align with our efforts for next year. Also, we have only reviewed positions based on the draft budget. Next year, we plan to engage in a more thorough, zero-based budgeting process.
Position Additions from Draft Budget that are No Longer Recommended
There are several positions included in the draft budget that we are no longer recommending at this point. In looking at specific positions, we considered our ability to carry out necessary work through more efficient systems and in some cases, the need to pause and re-consider our approach.
With that in mind, we are no longer recommending going forward with the following position additions that were included in the draft budget. Because these were new positions in the draft budget, they do not have staff in them currently and do not require any layoffs.
Mental Health Coordinator: Through redistribution of work in student services, we will be able to provide support to implementation of the Mental Health Task Force’s work.
Safety Coordinator: We will continue to coordinate efforts across the organization to ensure safety.

Perhaps a positive sign “we must keep our efforts and resources focused on providing supports to schools to improve instruction”. Reading is surely job one, as the District’s long term disastrous reading scores illustrate.

March, 2013 Madison Schools’ financial reports (PDF).
Related: Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months.
Commentary on Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes’ Teacher Salary Increase Words.

Madison Teachers Files Notice to Bargain with the School District

Madison Teachers Solidarity Newsletter, via a kind Jeannie Bettner email (PDF):

MTI has filed notice with the Board of Education and the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) to open bargaining for 2014-15 Collective Bargaining Agreements for all five (5) MTI bargaining units. Bargaining is enabled by Judge Colas’ decision that Act 10, which sought to bar public sector bargaining, is unconstitutional. The City of Madison and the County of Dane have contracts with all City and County unions through 2015.
Last week MTI filed an additional petition with Judge Colas because of the failure of the Governor and the WERC Commissioners to implement those parts of Act 10 which Colas found to violate the Wisconsin Constitution. The WERC Commissioners contend that, because Judge Colas did not issue an injunction, they may ignore his declaratory judgment when considering cases filed at the WERC. The WERC Commissioners and the Governor apparently believe that without a specific injunction directing them to abide by the Court’s declaration of unconstitutionality, they are free to apply the law as they, not the Court, interprets it.
MTI Executive Director John Matthews said, “The above-described actions of the WERC Commissioners and the Governor, who are parties to the case, are unprecedented. They argued that the law was constitutional and they lost. They asked for a stay from the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals and they lost. By implementing and enforcing a law determined to be unconstitutional, they are saying ‘We are above the law.’ That is intolerable. Consequently, MTI has returned to court to seek an injunction to force the WERC Commissioners, and the Governor who controls them, to respect the Courts and follow the law.”
MTI expects to exchange bargaining proposals with the District within the next few weeks. MTI represents approximately 5,000 District employees in five different bargaining units. They are teachers (MTI), educational assistants (EA-MTI), clerical/technical employees (SEE-MTI), substitute teachers (USO-MTI) and school security assistants (SSA-MTI).
In addition to the usual topics, MTI bargaining will include District proposals to amend Contract terms about parent-teacher conferences and possible extension, in some schools, of the school day and school year.

Fascinating. It appears likely that Madison’s “status quo” governance model will continue.
Commentary on Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes’ Teacher Salary Increase Colloquy.
Madison’s long term disastrous reading results.

Commentary on Madison and Surrounding School Districts; Middleton’s lower Property Taxes

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here in Madison, our attention is primarily focused on our troubling achievement gaps, and those gaps are achingly apparent in the new WKCE scores. Under new superintendent Jen Cheatham’s leadership, we’ll continue to pursue the most promising steps to accelerate the learning of our African-American, Latino and Hmong students who have fallen behind.
At the same time, we also need to continue to meet the needs of our students who are doing well. I am going to focus on the latter groups of students in this post.
In particular, I want to take a look at how our Madison students stack up against those attending schools in other Dane County school districts under the new WKCE scoring scale. The demographics of our Madison schools are quite a bit different from those of our surrounding school districts. This can skew comparisons. To control for this a bit, I am going to compare the performance of Dane County students who do not fall into the “economically disadvantaged” category. I’ll refer to these students as “non-low income.”

I took a quick look at property taxes in Middleton and Madison on a $230,000 home. A Middleton home paid $4,648.16 in 2012 while a Madison home paid 16% more, or $5,408.38. Local efforts to significantly increase property taxes may grow the gap with Middleton.

“Voucher Voodoo: Smart Kids Shine Here” (Madison); A few links to consider


Tap on the image to view a larger version. Source: The Global Report Card.


Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the Madison school district’s achievement gap problems and other challenges we face. I’ve also been responding to the outlandish notion that Madison is a failing school district whose students deserve private school vouchers as their only lifeline to academic success.
At times like this, I find it helpful to remember that Madison’s schools are educating many, many students who are succeeding. Some of them are succeeding spectacularly. With apologies to those I’m overlooking, here’s a brief run-down on some of our stars –
Madison Memorial’s recently-formed science bowl team won the Wisconsin state championship in January. The team of seniors Srikar Adibhatla, Sohil Shah, Thejas Wesley and William Xiang and sophomore Brian Luo will represent Wisconsin in the National Science Bowl Championship in Washington, D.C. in April.

Related:
Credit for non-Madison School District courses and the Talented and Gifted complaint.
Census.gov on Madison’s demographics, compared to College Station, TX. 52.9% of Madison residents have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the State’s 26%. 57.5% of College Station, Texas’s residents have a college degree.
Madison High School UW-Madison and University of Wisconsin System enrollment trends 1983-2011:
East LaFollette, Memorial, West, Edgewood.
Where have all the students, gone? A look at suburban Madison enrollment changes.
National Merit Semifinalists & Wisconsin’s cut scores.
Madison’s nearly $15k per student annual spending, community support and higher education infrastructure provide the raw materials for world class public schools. Benchmarking ourselves against world leaders would seem to be a great place to begin.

Continuing to Advocate Status Quo Governance & Spending (Outcomes?) in Madison

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

First, I provide some background on the private school voucher imposition proposal. Next, I list thirteen ways in which the proposal and its advocates are hypocritical, inconsistent, irrational, or just plain wrong. Finally, I briefly explain for the benefit of Wisconsin Federation for Children why the students in Madison are not attending failing schools.

Related: Counterpoint by David Blaska.
Does the School Board Matter? Ed Hughes argues that experience does, but what about “Governance” and “Student Achievement”?
2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

2009: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use. This program continues, despite the results.
2004: Madison Schools Distort Reading Data (2004) by Mark Seidenberg.
2012: Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: “We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”
Scott Bauer

Almost half of Wisconsin residents say they haven’t heard enough about voucher schools to form an opinion, according to the Marquette University law school poll. Some 27 percent of respondents said they have a favorable view of voucher schools while 24 percent have an unfavorable view. But a full 43 percent said they hadn’t heard enough about them to form an opinion.
“There probably is still more room for political leadership on both sides to try to put forward convincing arguments and move opinion in their direction,” pollster Charles Franklin said.
The initial poll question about vouchers only asked for favorability perceptions without addressing what voucher schools are. In a follow-up question, respondents were told that vouchers are payments from the state using taxpayer money to fund parents’ choices of private or religious schools.
With that cue, 51 percent favored it in some form while 42 percent opposed it.
Walker is a staunch voucher supporter.

More on the voucher proposal, here.
www.wisconsin2.org
A close observer of Madison’s $392,789,303 K-12 public school district ($14,547/student) for more than nine years, I find it difficult to see substantive change succeeding. And, I am an optimist.
It will be far better for us to address the District’s disastrous reading results locally, than to have change imposed from State or Federal litigation or legal changes. Or, perhaps a more diffused approach to redistributed state tax dollar spending.

Race a Factor in the 2013 Madison School Board Election? I believe it is more of a “class” and/or “we know best” issue

Matthew DeFour (and many others):

That led minority leaders to complain about the perceived control white Madison liberals — including teachers union leaders — exert on elections and on efforts meant to raise minority student achievement. Some local leaders have undertaken soul-searching while others say more minorities need to seek elective office.
“You could not have constructed a scenario to cause more alienation and more mistrust than what Sarah Manski did,” longtime local political observer Stuart Levitan said, referring to the primary winner for seat 5. “It exposed an underlying lack of connection between some of the progressive white community and the progressive African-American community that is very worrisome in the long run.”
In the last few weeks:

  • Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire in a lengthy email described the failed negotiations involving him, district officials and Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews over Caire’s proposed Madison Preparatory Academy geared toward low-income minority students.
  • Ananda Mirilli, who placed third behind Manski for seat 5, released emails in which Sarah Manski’s husband, Ben Manski, accused Caire of recruiting Mirilli to run for School Board and linking Caire to a conservative foundation. Caire confirmed the email exchange, but said he didn’t recruit Mirilli. The Manskis did not respond to requests for comment.
  • Two School Board members, Mary Burke and Ed Hughes, vigorously backed former police lieutenant Wayne Strong, who is black, to counter the influence of political groups supporting his opponent. In the seat 3 race, Strong faces Dean Loumos, a low-income housing provider supported by MTI, the Dane County Democratic Party, Progressive Dane and the local Green Party.

Much more on the 2013 Madison School Board election, here.

Up, Down & Transparency: Madison Schools Received $11.8M more in State Tax Dollars last year, Local District Forecasts a Possible Reduction of $8.7M this Year

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District stands to lose millions of dollars in state aid under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, district officials said Wednesday.
The district is projecting an $8.7 million, 15 percent reduction in state aid, Superintendent Jane Belmore said in an interview.
She cautioned that the amount is a preliminary estimate based on the governor’s 2013-15 budget proposal, which could undergo changes by the Legislature.
The district is preparing its 2013-14 budget, and it’s unclear when a proposal will be finalized. School districts typically develop spending plans for the following year before knowing exactly how much money they’ll get in state aid.
Walker’s budget calls for a 1 percent increase in state aid, but Belmore said when district staff put the amount through the state’s complicated funding formula it resulted in the reduction. State Department of Public Instruction officials couldn’t verify the district’s estimate.
This year’s $394 million school budget included $249.3 million in property taxes, a 1.75 percent increase over the previous year.

One would hope that any budget article should include changes over time, which DeFour unfortunately neglects. Madison received an increase of $11.8M in redistributed state tax dollars last year.
In addition, DeFour mentions that the current budget is 394,000,000. The most recent number I have seen is $385,886,990. where has the additional $8,113,010 come from? where is it being spent? was there a public discussion? Per student spending is now $14,541.42.
Related: Ed Hughes on School District numbers in 2005: in 2005::

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

Is Madison having a truly open dialogue about the schools’ achievement gap?

Pat Schneider:

Can you have a public discussion on closing the achievement gap in Madison without inviting Kaleem Caire, the architect of a would-be charter school plan that pushed the issue of the Madison School District’s persistent race-based gap to the front burner of local civic debate?
Caire, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is not on the roster for the March 13 installment of Ed Talks Wisconsin, a UW-Madison-sponsored series on current education topics, when a Madison panel will discuss “Closing the Achievement Gap: Toward a Community-Wide K12 Agenda.”
Joel Rogers, director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the equity advocacy group that organized the achievement gap panel discussion, said Monday that the presentation was conceived as a response to Caire’s education forum featuring such lights of the “school reform” movement as Geoffrey Canada, John Legend and Howard Fuller. At that two-day event last December, people heard a lot of talk promoting charter schools and greater teacher accountability as the answer to lagging performance by students of color.
“We wanted voices of people who think that, whatever its defects, public education is important in the 21st century,” Rogers said, adding that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin urged him to organize a program.
For his part, Soglin said that Caire has organized a number of discussions, like December’s “Educate to Elevate,” and “he did not invite anyone with different opinions on charter schools to participate.”
…….
The achievement gap presentation in Ed Talks was in response to the Urban League’s education summit, but other programs in the eight-day series were suggested by a variety of other groups as early as last fall, organizer Sara Goldrick-Rab [SIS], an associate professor in the School of Education, told me.
The final event on March 21 is part of a two-day educational policy conference that the university has hosted for years, she said.
Ed Talks is funded by some $5,000 in donations from a variety of university entities, but some $8,000 in funding for the educational policy conference includes $300 from the local branch of the American Federation of Teachers and $500 from WEAC, Goldrick-Rab said.

Related Does the School Board Matter? Ed Hughes argues that experience does, but what about “Governance” and “Student Achievement”?

Change is the Only Path to Better Schools

Chris Rickert:

Shortly after Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad resigned last year, School Board member Ed Hughes told me that when it comes to the Madison School District, “People want improvement, but they don’t want change.”
I thought about Hughes’ words last weekend after the school district announced it had hired Chicago Public Schools chief of instruction Jennifer Cheatham as Nerad’s replacement.
Cheatham is seen as the best bet for improvement — specifically to the long history of low-income and minority student under-achievement.
The question now is: Will people tolerate her changes?
Hughes told me Sunday he was “optimistic” they would. “I think she will earn teachers’ trust and inspire them to do their best work,” he said. “If she succeeds at that, everything else will fall into place.”
I hope he’s right, but I don’t yet share his optimism.
Back in 2011, it was the district’s long-standing inability to do anything bold about the achievement gap that left it vulnerable to the Urban League of Greater Madison’s bid to open its own charter school for minority and low-income students.
Madison Preparatory Academy brought the issue of the achievement gap to the fore. But the school’s rejection — largely due to opposition from the teachers union — left notoriously progressive Madison doing some uncomfortable soul-searching.

Related: And so it continues…..

And, so it continues



Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Leadership comes in different shapes and sizes. After spending time with 41-year-old Jen Cheatham and attending the community forum on Thursday, I kept thinking back to the winter day 23 years ago when 43-year-old Barry Alvarez was introduced to the Madison community and made his memorable statement about how fans interested in season tickets better get them now because they’d soon be hard to get.
Like Cheatham, Alvarez was an outsider, a rising star in a major program who was ready to take the reins of his own program and run with it. That certainly did not guarantee success, but he proved to have that rare and ineluctable something that inspired his players to raise their game, that drove them to succeed as a team because they couldn’t bear to let their coach or teammates down.
As with Barry, so with Jen. For those of us who have been able to spend time with Jen Cheatham and talk to her about her vision for our Madison schools, it is clear that whatever leadership is, she has it. What we heard time and again from those she’s worked with is that Jen is able to inspire principals and teachers to do their best possible work for the students they serve. But also like Alvarez, she’s doesn’t shy away from tough decisions when they’re necessary.

Related: Madison’s third grade reading results:

“The other useful stat buried in the materials is on the second page 3 (= 6th page), showing that the 3rd grade proficiency rate for black students on WKCE, converted to NAEP-scale proficiency, is 6.8%, with the accountability plan targeting this percentage to increase to 23% over one school year. Not sure how this happens when the proficiency rate (by any measure) has been decreasing year over year for quite some time. Because the new DPI school report cards don’t present data on an aggregated basis district-wide nor disaggregated by income and ethnicity by grade level, the stats in the MMSD report are very useful, if one reads the fine print.”

Madison School Board Needs to Address Search Fiasco:

That being the case, Cheatham would come to this position in a difficult circumstance. As Kaleem Caire, the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, told the State Journal: “The perception of people in this community when we have one pick, they will always question the value of this woman. That’s not fair to her and not fair to our kids.”
The School Board has presided over a fiasco that board member Ed Hughes admits — in a major understatement — “has not gone as smoothly as we’d like.”
Now the board needs to get its act together.
If would be good if the board were to seek the return of the more than $30,000 in taxpayer money that was allocated for what can only charitably be referred to as a “search.” However, we don’t want the board to squander more tax money on extended legal wrangling.
The board should make it clear that it will not have further dealings with this search firm, as the firm’s vetting of applicants does not meet the basic standards that a responsible board should expect.
Perhaps most importantly, the board should engage in a serious rethink of its approach to searches for top administrators. The Madison Metropolitan School District is a great urban school district. It has challenges, especially with regard to achievement gaps and the overuse of standardized testing, that must be addressed.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman – August, 2009

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).
Zimman noted that the most recent State of Wisconsin Budget removed the requirement that arbitrators take into consideration revenue limits (a district’s financial condition @17:30) when considering a District’s ability to afford union negotiated compensation packages. The budget also added the amount of teacher preparation time to the list of items that must be negotiated….. “we need to breakthrough the concept that public schools are an expense, not an investment” and at the same time, we must stop looking at schools as a place for adults to work and start treating schools as a place for children to learn.”

With superintendent candidate set to visit, Madison School Board on hot seat

Matthew DeFour:

As a top Chicago Public Schools administrator visits Madison on Thursday to make her case to be the next Madison superintendent, questions linger about the School Board’s selection process.
The day after the other finalist for the job suddenly withdrew amid questions about his past, two Madison School Board members stood by the board’s decision to move forward with the visit by Jennifer Cheatham. The other five did not return calls seeking comment.
Board members Ed Hughes and Mary Burke also said they weren’t ready to pass judgment on the search consultant, Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after Walter Milton Jr., superintendent in Springfield, Ill., withdrew, and it was not clear how much board members knew about his background.
“We understand why people have questions about our process because it hasn’t gone as smoothly as we’d like,” Hughes said. “That said, I think we are excited about the possibility of Jennifer Cheatham. She sounds like she could be a terrific candidate.”

Much more on Madison’s latest Superintendent search, here.
Jennifer Cheatham links: Bing, Blekko, Clusty, Google, Twitter.

2013 Madison Schools Wishlist

Madison schoolboard member Ed Hughes:

11. I wish for a successful introduction of the Mondo reading program in all our elementary schools. Superintendent Jane Belmore has particular interest and expertise in literacy and she has spearheaded the school district’s decision to adopt the Mondo Bookshop Program at the K-5 level across all elementary schools, with the purchase of new curriculum materials funded through some of the unexpected state aid that came our way this fall. The Mondo program, which is said to have clearly-focused lesson guides that are aligned to the Common Core state standards, should be a significant step forward in terms of a district-wide, aligned, early literacy scope and sequence. I also wish that now that we have made a commitment to the Mondo program, we stick with it and don’t lurch towards some other approach if the improved outcomes we’re seeking take a while to arrive.
12. I realize there is initiative fatigue among our teachers and staff, but I wish for a continued push for new student-based ideas and initiatives developed at the school level, like the drive toward converting Toki Middle School to an Expeditionary Learning school. This fall, there was discussion of Toki possibly switching to a charter school structure as a way of accessing state funds that could help accelerate the conversion. I am sorry that this charter proposal has run into complications and has been withdrawn before the Board really had a chance to consider it, but I hope that principals, teachers and staff at all our schools continue to search for innovative approaches toward enhancing the engagement and learning of our students.

Infinite Campus, Infinite Problems

Libby’s Board of Education Blog:

I conducted a (very) informal poll last night on Facebook–out of curiosity I asked my friends how often their teachers used Infinite Campus. The results didn’t shock me-most respondents answered either “half” or “some” of their teachers updated their gradebook regularly. Personally, “half” accurately describes my teachers. For some classes, I consistently know what grade I’m getting because the teachers add assignments often. However, many classes aren’t updated regularly, making it hard for me to know what assignments I’m missing and how to prioritize my time.
Infinite Campus is a six-year old program that the district has continuously struggled to implement. It’s in every school and every teacher has access, but the system isn’t always user friendly for teachers and staff inputting data. I’m pretty sure teachers don’t update because of the clunky interface. In fact, tonight’s Board Meeting confronted an issue with Infinite Campus: not everyone uses it.
Ed Hughes got mad tonight. After a string of public appearances condemning IC, disappointing news that the Infinite Campus developers weren’t flexible about changing and a suggestion that we abandon the Infinite Campus system entirely, Mr. Hughes practically shouted that “we should either require all teachers to be compliant or get some direction from the administration on what we need to change.”

Much more on the Madison School District’s Infinite Campus experience, here.
Libby mentioned “developers weren’t flexible about changing”… There may well be opportunities for improvement. But, Infinite Campus has a large installed base. Why is it working in other Districts, and not Madison? My 18 years in the software business informs me that leadership is critical to successful implementation. It also means that such systems must be mandated. Waiting six years is a disaster, financially and from a credibility perspective.
Nearby Districts such as Verona have managed to implement student information systems. Why can’t Madison? Time to pull the plug if the Administration can’t make it happen.

Priorities and Judgment Calls: A Collective Bargaining Recap

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

The other major change to the CBA affects the hiring process for teachers. Currently, teachers have the opportunity to seek to transfer to vacant positions at other schools until four weeks prior to the start of the school year. Once the internal transfer process has been completed, principals can select applicants for teaching positions from outside the district. It is pretty obvious that the school district was placing itself at a competitive disadvantage in hiring if it could not tell a potential new hire where he or she would be teaching until a month before school starts.
According to the new procedure that is now set forth in the CBA, teachers who find themselves surplused will be placed in new positions by the school district by May 1 of each year. Then vacant positions will be posted for internal transfers. While a change was proposed in the district’s initial bargaining proposal, the final agreement retains the requirement that principals must select an internal transfer applicant if any applicants for a vacant position possess the minimum qualifications. The internal transfer process closes on June 15 and at that point principals can choose external candidates for any positions that remain unfilled. This change represents a big step toward a hiring process that maximizes our chances to hire the kind of skilled and diverse applicants we are looking for.
As I mention above, the new agreement does not address wages. At this point we don’t have sufficient information to make any sort of decision about raising salaries for the 2013-14 school year. Most importantly, we have no idea what the governor and new legislature will do about revenue limits for the next biennium and so we don’t know whether we will be able to increase our spending and by how much, or whether we will have to cut our per-pupil spending, as was the case for the first year of the current biennium.

Much more on the Madison School District’s rather unique action, here.

Madison School District’s Teacher Union Bargaining Update

Matthew DeFour:

Matthews said a few proposals gave him “heartburn,” such as one that would allow the district to dismiss someone who had been on medical leave for two years. A proposal converting workloads from four class periods and one study hall to 25 hours per week could also give the district latitude to shorten class periods and increase each teacher’s number of classes, he said.
One change that Matthews said could be easily resolved is a proposal from both sides to make Unity health insurance available to employees. The district wants to be able to choose Physicians Plus, which it currently offers, or Unity, while MTI wants the district to offer both.
The union’s proposal seeks to reverse some of the changes that were negotiated before Act 10 took effect in 2011. They include giving teachers control over their time during Monday early release and deleting a clause that allows the district to require up to 10 percent health insurance premium contributions.

Madison Teachers’, Inc. Solidarity eNewsletter (PDF):

Last Monday’s Board of Education meeting brought a pleasant surprise. With nearly every chair and all standing room taken in the McDaniels’ Auditorium by MTI members in red solidarity shirts or AFSCME members sporting their traditional green, those present erupted in applause when Board of Education member Ed Hughes announced that Board members (who arrived 40 minutes late because of the length of their prior meeting) had agreed to bargain with MTI and AFSCME over Contract terms for 2013-14.
Governor Walker’s Act 10, which forbid public sector bargaining (except over limited wage increases) has been set aside by Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas who ruled that Act 10 violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and equal protection, in response to MTI’s lawsuit.
Honoring a vote majority of 76% in Madison and 68% in Dane County, Mayor Soglin and County Executive Parisi have negotiated contracts through June 2015 with City and County employees.
Now the Madison Board of Education has seen the light. Negotiations in the District are to commence today. MTI members should stay in contact with their elected leaders and via MTI’s webpage (www.madisonteachers.org) as regards the Contract ratification process.

Is Teacher Union “Collective Bargaining” Good for Students?

The Madison School Board has scheduled [PDF] a 2:00p.m. meeting tomorrow, Sunday 30 September for an “Initial exchange of proposals and supporting rationale for such proposals in regard to collective bargaining negotiations regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) for MMSD Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) Teachers, Substitute Teachers, Educational Assistants, Supportive Educational Employees (SEE), and School Security Assistants (SSA), held as a public meeting pursuant to Wis. Stat. §111.70(4)(cm)”.
The School Board along with other Madison area governments have moved quickly to negotiate or extend agreements with several public sector unions after a judicial decision overturning parts of Wisconsin’s Act 10. The controversial passage of Act 10 changed the dynamic between public sector organizations and organized labor.
I’ve contemplated these events and thought back to a couple of first hand experiences:
In the first example, two Madison School District teacher positions were being reduced to one. Evidently, under the CBA, both had identical tenure so the choice was a coin toss. The far less qualified teacher “won”, while the other was laid off.
In the second example, a Madison School District teacher and parent lamented to me the poor teacher one of their children experienced (in the same District) and that “there is nothing that can be done about it”.
In the third example, a parent, after several years of their child’s “mediocre” reading and writing experiences asked that they be given the “best teacher”. The response was that they are “all good”. Maybe so.
Conversely, I’ve seen a number of teachers go far out of their way to help students learn, including extra time after school and rogue curricula such as phonics and Singapore Math.
I am unaware of the School Board meeting on a Sunday, on short notice, to address the District’s long time reading problems.
A bit of background:
Exhibit 1, written in 2005 illustrating the tyranny of low expectations” “When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before”.
Exhibit 2, 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison speech to the Madison Rotary Club is worth reading:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

William Rowe has commented here frequently on the challenges of teacher evaluation schemes.
This being said, I do find it informative to observe the Board’s priorities in light of the District’s very serious reading problems.
This article is worth reading in light of local property taxes and spending priorities: The American Dream of upward mobility has been losing ground as the economy shifts. Without a college diploma, working hard is no longer enough.

Unlike his parents, John Sherry enrolled in college after graduating from high school in Grand Junction, a boom-bust, agriculture-and-energy outpost of 100,000 inhabitants on Colorado’s western edge. John lasted two years at Metropolitan State University in Denver before he dropped out, first to bag groceries at Safeway, later to teach preschool children, a job he still holds. He knew it was time to quit college when he failed statistics two semesters in a row. Years passed before John realized just how much the economic statistics were stacked against him, in a way they never were against his father.
Greg Sherry, who works for a railroad, is 58 and is chugging toward retirement with an $80,000-a-year salary, a full pension, and a promise of health coverage for life. John scrapes by on $11 an hour, with few health benefits. “I feel like I’m working really hard,” he says, “but I’m not getting ahead.”
This isn’t the lifestyle that John’s parents wished upon their younger child. But it reflects the state of upward–or downward–mobility in the American economy today.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
TJ Mertz comments on collective bargaining, here and here.
Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: Didn’t See That One Coming: How the Madison School Board Ended Up Back in Collective Bargaining.
The Capital Times: Should local governments negotiate with employees while the constitutionality of the collective bargaining law is being appealed?

The search for a new Madison schools superintendent: Can anyone meet our expectations?

Nayantara Mukherji:

Everyone in Madison seems to have an opinion about who the next superintendent of the school district should be.
Suzanne Swift, president of the Franklin Randall Elementary School PTO, wants a superintendent who can motivate a “demoralized staff,” develop relationships and advocate for the district at the state and national levels.
Education policy expert Sarah Archibald says a future superintendent should be willing to make tough decisions about allocating shrinking resources.
Eugenia Highland, program coordinator at Centro Hispano, wants someone who will focus on reducing the achievement gap.
School board member Ed Hughes says the district needs a leader who can “navigate the political shoals of serving in a place like Madison.”
Outgoing Superintendent Dan Nerad, who began his Madison tenure in 2008, insists his replacement must care about students and the community.

Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires.

Commentary on the Wisconsin DPI’s New School Report Cards

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

A few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released an example of what the upcoming report cards for state schools will look like. The report cards are described as one of the package of reforms that that DPI promised to implement in order to win a waiver from the federal Department of Education from the more onerous burdens of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
One of the qualifications for an NCLB waiver is that a state must put into place an accountability system for schools. The system must take into account results for all students and subgroups of students identified in NCLB on: measures of student achievement in at least reading/language arts and mathematics; graduation rates; and school performance and progress over time. Once a state has adopted a “high-quality assessment,” the system must also take into account student growth.
In announcing the NCLB waiver, DPI claimed that it had established accountability measures that “1) are fair; 2) raise expectations; and 3) provide meaningful measures to inform differentiated recognitions, intervention, and support.”
Designing a fair and meaningful system for assessing the performance of the state’s schools is a worthy endeavor. The emphasis for me is on the “fair” requirement. I consider an assessment system to be fair if it measures how successfully a school promotes the learning of whichever students show up at its door.

Related: Notes and links on the oft-criticized WKCE and Madison’s long term reading recovery challenges.

Madison should land top talent for school superintendent

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Those remarks seemed unduly negative and failed to give full recognition to the myriad qualities this market offers any newcomer. Like many, we favor the “who wouldn’t want to work in Madison?” view.
Not to worry, said School Board member Ed Hughes, who asked the question that prompted Ray’s comments at last week’s meeting.
“It was reassuring to me,” Hughes said. “It showed they had done their homework about this market. I thought it was realistic and useful.”
Next, Ray and Co. will talk to board members about their desires for a superintendent, then add some community outreach to the fact-finding process. If all goes well, this nationwide search will yield a strong, successful leader for one of the most important jobs in town.

Madison certainly has the community, financial and nearby (University of Wisconsin, Madison College, Edgewood College) assets to offer a world class K-12 education. Getting there will require substantial change and… change is very hard.

Wisconsin and National School Spending Growth Perspectives

Laura Waters:

Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, has an editorial in the Wall St. Journal this week assailing the “explosive growth” in America’s public school work force. Since 1970, he charges, student enrollment has “flat-lined,” yet the number of teachers and instructional aides has doubled, from 3.3 million to 6.4 million, with concurrent increases in costs.
Coulson writes, “America’s public schools have warehoused three million people in jobs that do little to improve student achievement–people who would be working productively in the private sector if that extra $210 billion were not taxed out of the economy each year.”
But there’s a panacea readily available: create state voucher systems to send all our kids to private schools. (Also, elect Mitt Romney because President Obama’s education agenda is an “expensive and tragic failure.”)
Whoa, Nellie!
While it’s no doubt a challenge to squish a radical paradigm shift within the confines of the WSJ’s 600-word limit, that’s no excuse for specious logic or casual disregard for facts. Worse, this sort of inflammatory rhetoric gives education reform a bad name.
For example, let’s look at Mr. Coulson’s claim that American public schools hire too many teachers and aides (i.e., have too low a teacher/student ratio), and that private schools are cheaper and produce higher-achieving students.
He writes, “If we returned to the student-staff ratio of 1970, American tax payers would save about $210 billion in personnel costs.”







Madison School Board member Ed Hughes:

There is no mystery about the size of the overall pie. The last budget under Governor Doyle appropriated $5,025,190,300 for elementary and secondary school aids for 2009-10 and $5,271,555,900 for 2010-11. Under Governor Walker’s budget, this total was cut to $4,845,083,000 for 2011-12 and $4,913,986,100 for 2012-13. So Governor Walker slashed general state aid to schools by about $538 million over the biennium. This is hardly cause for celebration.
How next year’s $4.9 billion in general state aid is split up among the state’s 424 school districts is determined by the school funding formula. I describe how the formula works here. This year, to just about everyone’s surprise, the formula has turned out to be Madison’s friend.
Last year, application of the school funding formula resulted in MMSD qualifying for about $15 million in general state aid. This amount was increased to about $43 million by virtue of the hold-harmless provision of the law that capped each school district’s reduction in state aid at 10% of the previous year’s total.
How could it be that the same formula that calculated that MMSD was entitled to $15 million in state aid in 2011-12 would determine that the district was in line for $53 million for 2012-13?


Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding

Homework and the Achievement Gap

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

When I reviewed the many sound initiatives in the Achievement Gap Plan (AGP), I came to think that a piece was missing. The plan addresses the need for our teachers and schools, our community partners, and our parents all to do their part to assist in the academic achievement of our students. Nowhere in the plan, however, do we acknowledge the basic fact that ultimately our students are the ones responsible for their own learning.
The only way students who are behind will be able to catch up is by putting in the time and effort necessary to expand their learning and increase their skills. It’s pretty simple. If we are to narrow the achievement gap in the sense that we expect students of color to achieve at the same level as white students – and not merely expect that a higher percentage of students of color will achieve proficiency as measured on standardized tests – then the students of color will have to work harder than the white students in order to make up the ground between them. There is simply no other way. The white students aren’t going to just sit around and wait for the others to reach their level.

Related: Madison Schools Administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”